By Mario Sbaraglia
Flea market vendors who learn to read shoppers, the way poker players read opponents, can increase their profits substantially. We all know that bargaining is part of the flea market experience, and most of us allow for that when pricing our merchandise. There are times, however, when vendors should stick to their original prices—or very close to them.
Vendors, don’t show your hand
Before vendors can be in a position to properly read shoppers, they must check their own behavior. It is a simple two-step process:
1. Act confident. A vendor I know ends her price quotes with “but I can do better.” She makes it too easy for shoppers to make very low counteroffers.
2. Be quiet. Most vendors talk too much and, in an effort to show off their knowledge, they miss opportunities to observe shoppers’ behavior.
All shoppers, like all but the most skilled poker players, let you know exactly what they are thinking. Do not listen to what they say, but pay close attention to how they act. The following are things to look for.
- Keep returning their attention to an object. They might even leave your space and return later and head right for the same object.
- Touch the item very carefully and gingerly as if to be in awe of it.
- Lay claim to the item, and pick it up and hold it tightly as they continue shopping.
- Seem to be swept away by an item and taken to a blissful place from their past.
Shoppers exhibiting any of the above behaviors will probably not realize you have noticed. Since they are at a flea market they know that they are “supposed” to offer less. If you recognize the clues, you might not have to accept a penny less than your original price.
A case in point:
One time, a gentleman offered me a hundred dollars for a lamp I was selling for $125. I shook my head no, but what happened in the next few seconds perfectly illustrates what happens when vendors do not properly pay attention. I began walking towards him and though looking at him, I was not paying attention. I was only thinking about how much I did not want to lose the sale. Upon reaching him, I panicked and said, “Okay, I’ll take a hundred dollars.” I knew immediately I had made a mistake. If I would have been fully paying attention, I would have noticed the way he was looking at the lamp and the way he was touching it. I also would have noticed that a microsecond before opening my mouth, he began to reach into his pocket. He was going to pay the $125! By failing to properly register my customer’s actions, I cost myself a whopping 30 percent of pure profit. Even though I “won the pot,” it was smaller than it should have been.